The right stuff

6th April 2001 at 01:00
OK, so we're all getting used to the ICT resources available to aid us in education, but do we have sufficient knowledge to use these tools to the best effect? Do you know where the best resources to do the job are? George Cole paints the broad picture while others concentrate on key areas and issues

Getting started with ICT in mathematics is now easier than ever, with many programs designed to be used almost straight from the box. I am not quite advocating this approach however - you need to try the program yourself before letting your students loose on it! It is important to give any program a thorough testing, which includes giving wrong answers, pressing incorrect keys or choosing strange combinations of keys. By doing this you will not only know what the program can do, but also what will happen when it is being used by pupils who may not think or respond in the same way as you do.

There are many applications of mathematics which can be more easily demonstrated using ICT than on paper, and many programs which allow children to explore mathematics for themselves. So where do you start? I recommend you first look at some programs aimed at specific parts of the curriculum. For example, the Maths Explorer series from Granada Learning provides good reinforcement of topics such as number and shape and space in interesting settings which provide a challenge to pupils. Shape and Space is set in a medieval castle and requires pupils to solve problems based on topics such as area, symmetry and angles in a series of challenges and puzzles. Journey to Swallow Farm (key stage 2) also uses an interactive adventure to develop most numeracy concepts. These programs are also useful in key stage 3.

Developing Number from ATM contains three programs which explore the foundations of number skills. SMILE has several packs available which comprise collections of small programs, often in the form of puzzles, on a theme such as number. All the programs mentioned are easy to use and many come with options which allow you to adjust the level of the program or produce reports on pupils' performance.

Long ago it ceased to be necessary for you to have to learn how to program computers yourself, but there are some aspects of the mathematics curriculum where it can be useful to use a program language such as LOGO to help pupils understand the concepts involved. Several versions are available, including MSW Logo which is available as a free download (see the ATM site for links).

Most computers today come with some type of integrated package of generalpurpose utilities such as databases and spreadsheets. The increased use of spreadsheets in mathematics has happened through teachers realising just how versatile they can be, making full use of the ability of the sheet to update all the cells which depend on one starting value. You could, for example, use a spreadsheet to record the results of an iterative process such as Fibonnacci sequences, and then examine what happens when you change the starting value. The functions which are supplied with the spreadsheet allow many calculations to be easily carried out, for example the mean and standard deviation of a set of data. Finding the roots of a quadratic equation can also be easily accomplished with a spreadsheet, where the steps in the iteration are made clear.

Your next step should be working with a package which is not linked to a particular topic, but which provides a ersatile tool. In this category, I'd suggest you need a general graphing package such as Omnigraph, which is straightforward to use. Next, a dynamic geometry program will enable your pupils to understand how transformations and graphs can be manipulated. Autograph (see page 21) is somewhat harder to begin using than Omnigraph but is much more versatile.

You should at some stage look at integrated learning systems, which offer teaching and assessment in one bundle. They vary in their approach but most give you the choice of deciding what material the pupil covers, or leaving it to the program. You will probably need to undertake the training offered as part of the purchase in order to gain the full benefit of using such packages. I recommend you look at Headstart and at the recently introduced Maths Quest from RM.

Turning to the Internet, don't forget that it is a good source of real data for use in realistic situations. When you want the frequencies of the numbers in the National Lottery or when you need the actual dimensions of a building for work on area or volume, you can find the information somewhere on the Internet. There are also many sites which offer ideas for teaching (10ticks is a good source of worksheets) and many, such as MathsNet and Nrich, are suitable for both teachers and pupils. These contain teaching ideas, puzzles, games and good lists of links to other maths sites. Teacher Wizard has useful lists of resources for both primary and secondary teachers. The "Count Me In" campaign, run by the BBC, has an entertaining site with interesting activities. Maths Lessons offers both tutorial and testing material for level 4 and upward. The sites run by the two professional associations are essential for any maths teacher and they offer some free software. The ATM site is particularly good if you are looking for ideas for using LOGO, and there are plenty of games and puzzles on Maze Works, and on Numeracy Resources.

Finally, secondary teachers can find an excellent introduction to the use of ICT and an in-depth exploration of mathematical ideas in Teaching mathematics with ICT by Adrian Oldknow and Ron Taylor. This is full of practical advice as well as plenty of examples.

Ian Wilson is headteacher of Rydens School, Walton-on-Thames Maths Explorer (various titles) Price: pound;49

Smile (various collections)

Tel: 020 75984841


Price: pound;42

Tel: 01684 833700


Mathematics with ICT published by Continuum Price: pound;22.25 Available at WH Smith and other stores

Autograph from Eastmond Publishing

Price: pound;50 Tel: 01832 273444

Journey to Swallow Farm from Aircom Price: pound;14.99

Developing Number from ATM Price: pound;49.95

Headstart GCSE Maths Price: pound;29.99 Tel: 01978 810000

Maths Quest from RM

Maths Association

Association of Teachers of


Nrich www.nrich



Count Me In

Maze Works

Numeracy Resources

Maths Lessons

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